A fluffy brown puppy lays on the concrete with a sad expression.

How to include animals in your emergency plan.

When it comes to natural disasters, being prepared is critical. Read on for some key tips which can be lifesaving for our furry and feathered family members.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated May 30, 2023

Emergencies can occur quickly and without warning. Being well prepared can mean the difference between life and death – particularly for companion animals who are wholly dependent on their carers for their safety.

Hopefully you’ll never have to use your emergency plan, but in case your home is ever threatened by a crisis situation, here are tips on how to make one:

Don’t wait for an emergency to happen

Take time to prepare for emergencies in advance, because if and when disaster strikes, it’s important to know what to do and to act as quickly as possible.

It is recommended that you practice your emergency evacuation plan before it is needed, and also that you designate an ’emergency guardian’. An emergency guardian is someone, preferably close by, who can enact your evacuation plan for your animals if you’re not home. This person could be a neighbour who is home during the day, or any trusted person who you can leave keys with.

Put together a companion animal emergency kit

When evacuating with your companion animals, you’ll need to take supplies to look after them. Make sure to have a companion animal emergency kit ready and easy to access, and that everyone in the family knows where it is.

The kit should include the relevant items below, or as much of it as you can take:

  • Any necessary medications for at least 2 weeks, medical and vaccination records and vet details.
  • Food, treats and water (eg. bottled) for 2 weeks. If you take canned food, make sure that they are pop-tops (and don’t require a utensil to open).
  • Feeding dishes.
  • A familiar blanket or bedding, toys and grooming equipment.
  • A secure animal carrier, cage, leash and/or harness to move animals to safety.
  • Newspaper, paper towels, disinfectant, rubbish bags and disposable litter trays for your animals’ sanitary needs.
  • Up-to-date identification tags.
  • A current photograph for identification purposes (in case you are separated and need to make “Lost” posters).
  • Important phone numbers, such as: your vet, companion animal information and advisory services, RSPCA and/or local animal welfare agency, police, fire and ambulance, neighbours.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A fire fighter giving water to two rescued dogs during bushfires in Australia.
Image credit: Dylan Coker

Stay informed

During an emergency, it is important to remain informed about the latest developments. Essential information will be broadcast by radio and television, so tune in if you can. State and other government websites will also provide information. Remember to always follow the instructions of local and state officials.

Know where to take your animals

Determine the available options for safe places for your animals during an emergency. Understandably, you would want them to stay with you, but this is not always possible. Emergency shelters, for example, often do not accept animals due to reasons including capacity, safety, and hygiene.

You can check with your local council and other agencies on possible hazards, local emergency plans and what arrangements are in place regarding temporary animal shelters during times of major emergencies or disasters.

If considering moving animals to a safer place, do so as early as possible to avoid unnecessary risk.

If you have time to find safe temporary accommodation for animals, first consider people that you know, such as family and friends. Other options may include boarding facilities or an animal welfare shelter away from the threatened area. If you are able to find temporary accommodation for your animal, make sure you bring any clear medical and feeding information, their food, essential medicines and other necessary supplies with them.

When evacuating and seeking safety

If you have to evacuate your house and property, always take your animals with you. Never leave animals unattended or in a motor vehicle during an emergency.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when evacuating with your animals:

  • Secure them in an animal carrier/cage or harness when moving them to safety.
  • Ensure all animals can be easily identified with a microchip and/or secure tag detailing name and up-to-date contact details. Keep in mind that during times of disaster, cell service may not be available, so email address and an address in addition to phone numbers can also be very useful.
  • Make sure to pack medical and feeding information, food, medicine and other supplies.
  • Make sure you know various routes to get out of the dangerous zone.

If you are forced to leave animals at home

If your only option is to leave your animals at home during an emergency, take the following precautions:

For smaller animals, bring them indoors well in advance of an emergency event:

  • Never leave an animal chained or tethered outside – secure them in a safe, confined area inside with small windows, and remove potential hazards from the space. Animals in distress may try to escape and break through windows, doors and gates.
  • Ensure they have access to plenty of food and fresh water.
  • In case of flooding, leave your animals in the highest location in your home. Position a heavy chair or crate to allow access to a higher refuge such as tables, bench tops or shelves.
  • Leave a clearly visible note or sign outside on the front door, detailing the companion animals inside, where they are located, how you can be contacted, and details of your vet.
  • Inform your state authority and/or state RSPCA as soon as possible so that possible rescue can be arranged.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Two horses standing together
Image credit: Quest Equine Welfare

For larger animals, like horses:

  • Never leave an animal chained or tethered outside if you are unable to float them to safety during an emergency.
  • Microchipping can be helpful in reuniting you with your horse, however, this does rely on the horse being able to be caught and/or handled. Horses can become highly stressed during and following a disaster like a storm or fire. Even the friendliest horse may be wary of humans, especially those they are not familiar with. An additional measure is to paint your phone number and name using ‘livestock grease crayons’ as large as possible across the animal’s side so that you can be reached if your horse is spotted.

After an emergency

There are a few things to be aware of after an emergency:

  • Check that your yard is secure and safe.
  • Your animals’ behaviour can change after an emergency.
  • Monitor their behaviour closely — animals can become defensive and aggressive after a stressful event. They might not recognise their surroundings, as often familiar scents and landmarks may be altered. In the days following the event, leash your animals when they go outside and keep close contact until they become re-oriented.
  • If an animal is missing, contact your local RSPCA, pound and animal shelters to try to locate them. To assist in easily identifying you as the legal owner, it is recommended to keep a current photograph of your companion animal with you at all times.
A cute cat looking upwards about to touch noses with a man.
A young boy holds a hen affectionately.

Information for specific animal species

The information provided here can be applied to all companion animals, but there are many animal species, like birds, fish, reptiles and farmed animals, who require more specific care. If you have these animals in your care, we recommend contacting specialised agencies, such as the RSPCA or your vet, for further advice on your emergency plan.

Thank you for having an emergency plan to keep your animals safe during disasters.